Earlier this year, Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art student Madelynn Mae Green was selected to exhibit in Bloomberg New Contemporaries. The annual exhibition features student and recent graduate work, selected by a panel of influential art world figures. The touring exhibition opened at Liverpool School of Art & Design, Liverpool John Moores University as part of Liverpool Biennial in July and will continue on to South London Gallery, opening on 5 December.
Green was also recently involved in the Central Saint Martins Art Auction – an annual event which raises money towards the postgraduate art programme degree shows. Here, we talk to her about the selected works in both exhibitions, her acquisition for the Government Art Collection and the role of the artist in today’s society.
Can you tell us about your work Dinner that is included in the Postgraduate Art Auction?
Dinner is part of a series of paintings I am working on which addresses themes of domesticity and family image archives. To make the work, I pasted wallpaper onto a canvas and painted over it. The reference image for this piece was an old photograph I found of myself and my siblings seated at a dinner table in the early 2000s. By making this work I sought to bring this image out of obscurity and explore a domestic material as a painting surface that is accessible and familiar.
Does this work reference or expand on similar themes to the rest of your practice?
To some extent. The rest of my practice derives from similar family photo-based imagery, but I typically paint in a more realistic style. With Dinner, I reduced the figures to simple forms. I wanted to challenge myself by maintaining a minimal aesthetic; I’m usually obsessed with detail. This work also pushed me to work with a new material – wallpaper. I’m grateful for the auction because it gave me a chance to experiment and to see how the public responded to my latest work.
What experiences did the Art Auction experience provide – did it offer any new professional experience of the commercial, art market world?
The art auction was a great experience because it was useful practice for working within certain confines – such as deadlines and space restrictions. It also made me think about the context and curation of my work. Exhibiting work next to fellow students helped me think about how pieces respond to each other and how their placement in an exhibition or auction can make it more or less effective. It was also very motivating to see the live auction and what is possible in terms of a career as an artist.
You were selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries this year. Could you tell us a bit about this experience and how it has helped you with your practice?
I’m grateful to be part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2018; I applied in Winter 2017 and was shortlisted and eventually selected in Spring 2018. This experience has been great for my professional and personal development as an artist. As an organisation, New Contemporaries offers mentoring, exhibition opportunities, studio bursaries and lifelong membership in an amazing network of alumni, which includes a few of my favourite artists: David Hockney, Chris Ofili and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. It’s exciting to have your work included in a context which shows what other art students are making in the UK right now. My favourite part about it has been the networking aspect. I’ve met really kind and talented fellow artists from other art schools across the UK, connected with a fantastic mentor and been part of group shows with galleries that discovered my work through New Contemporaries. It’s been a wonderful expansion of my studies at Central Saint Martins and I would encourage any MA or BA students to apply.
As a result of the New Contemporaries exhibition your work was acquired by the UK Government Art Collection. This is an amazing achievement – can you tell us a bit about this process and what it means for you and the work?
Over the summer, New Contemporaries notified me that the Government Art Collection was considering buying work from the exhibition in Liverpool. A couple of my paintings were shortlisted and they asked me to provide a written statement. I was notified a couple weeks later that they had decided to add my painting Summer ‘97 to their collection, which will be displayed in government buildings in the UK, as well as in UK buildings abroad.
This was really surprising to me, since I’m not British and my work makes clear reference to my culture. It’s been amazing to know that my work is part of this esteemed collection and will be available for the public to see long after I’m gone. This work will be on view at the New Contemporaries exhibition at South London Gallery and I’m looking forward to finding out where in the world the GAC will decide to display it after the exhibition closes.
What advice would you give to other students who are thinking of applying to the next round of New Contemporaries?
I would say not to doubt yourself. I applied on a whim after being on the MA Fine Art course for only 4 months and with very little knowledge of what New Contemporaries actually was since I’m not from the UK. My BA is not even in art. Despite this, I still got selected. The good thing is they focus on the work only – there’s no requirement for a statement or biography.
As an exhibition of students and recent graduates, New Contemporaries is always an interesting, immediate demonstration of current thought and concerns. Do you think there are any particular themes which have emerged through the collection of works, or were there any works you were significantly drawn to?
Sadly I was not able to visit the New Contemporaries exhibition at the Liverpool Biennial this summer. I’m looking forward to seeing the exhibition when in opens in December at South London Gallery. However, I believe this was the most racially diverse group of selected artists yet. I think this reflects the current direction of the art world, where attitudes are shifting away from the status quo of exclusively white and male art histories, canons and exhibitions in favour of those that reflect how diverse the world actually is. This is a step in the right direction and will make for a powerful and politically relevant exhibition this winter.
Living in such turbulent, unpredictable times at the moment and also with arts and design subjects left in a precarious position in schools, what role do you think the artist or the designer can play for the general public?
With the chaotic state the world is in, I think art students should make an effort to ensure their work is not made in the bubble of the institution. It should be relevant outside of the studio. On MA Fine Art specifically, we are encouraged to work with research-based practices, so what we produce has some theoretical grounding. This is meaningful of course, but I believe a practical and functional element must also be present in the work. This doesn’t necessarily have to include explicit political imagery or material, but we can find innovative ways to communicate through materials, content, concepts or context. When I make work I think “What is it doing and for whom?” We have a powerful position as creative people and should use our practices to move culture, politics and society forward.